OR Case Update: Do Businesses Owe a Duty to Protect Patrons from Random Criminal Violence?

From the desk of Jeffrey D. Eberhard: It has become an unfortunate American fact that random acts of gun violence have become almost commonplace. The obvious impact of such senseless events is the death and injury of innocent people. Since the criminal does not have assets, naturally the victims of the assault will look elsewhere when seeking to recover money damages for their loss. In the following case, the family of a shooting victim standing in line at a club sought compensation for her death from the business where the shooting occurred. Read on to see whether the Court of Appeals allowed this suit to proceed.

Claims Pointer: In general, harm caused by criminals is not foreseeable to a business where the harm occurred. However, when there is a history of criminal conduct, a business may be on notice of the same general type of harm. In this case, the Oregon Court of Appeals refused to uphold a trial court’s dismissal of a claim in which a mentally ill person shot a random patron waiting in line to get into a club. The important take away from this case is that a plaintiff will likely survive a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment on the issue of foreseeability of criminal violence when the defendant is on notice of any past criminal violence. Whether the criminal act is a random act of violence—as opposed to drug or gang related violence—is irrelevant as long as the general conduct and harm is foreseeable.

Piazza v. Kellim, 271 Or App 490 (2015)

Note: At the outset, it is important to state that this appeal arose out of a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint. Typically, success on this type of motion is difficult. Merely because an appellate court reverses the granting of a motion to dismiss does not mean that the plaintiff has a valid claim, rather it means that that discovery should be allowed and the case can later be decided by either summary judgment or trial.
Martha Paz de Noboa Delgado (“Delgado”) was a 17 year old...

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